Motorsport is notorious for being costly. It starts off as a bit of fun, but then the competitive spirit kicks it. Being competitive usually means chucking more money at competition car than is eminently sensible. There has to be some sort of low cost motorsport that’s big on thrills, but easy on the wallet? There is. Let me introduce you to the wheel-spinning world of autotesting.
The rules of autotesting are simple but a bit mad at the same time. I mean, it’s a motorsport where competitors race against the clock, yet barely use anything more than second gear. Even more bizarrely, portions of the course are covered in reverse. Basically, an autotest event involves guiding a car through a series of manoeuvres, generally around traffic cones, to measure car control. That’s not really doing autotesting justice. It’s a automotive symphony of handbrake turns, reverse flicks and high revving sprints. If it all sounds a bit Gymkhana-esque, it’s because it is. Only these guys were doing it first.
The driver with the lowest accumulated time is the winner, although penalties are incurred for hitting cones, failing to stop on a line, or for taking the wrong route. Cars can range from road going retro-classics to modified specials – or quite simply the ‘anything goes’ class.
Because of the low speeds involved, safety gear like race suits and helmets are not needed. Whilst a clubman competition licence is needed to compete, this is easy to obtain. Some events are even open to competitors aged 14 and up. This particular event was organised by the TSCCNI and took place on the wide open expanse of Millisle air field.
In the world of clubman autotesting, the Mazda Mx-5 is king. Bullet proof mechanicals, diminutive proportions and rear wheel drive make a formidable package. What also helps is that Mx-5 is also readily available and relatively cheap. Especially compared to the former stalwarts of autotesting – the Mini and MG.
So, if you find yourself a loose end and fancy seeing some cars pirouetting round poles and being thrashed in reverse, before J-turning into a coned garage, check out autotesting. There can’t be too many forms of motorsport where its nigh on mandatory to compete with the roof down!
Pictures by Graham Curry Photography